Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou - You will be sorely missed

Though I often read poetry, it is not often I remember the poet so vividly. I DO remember Maya Angelou. Her poetry always spoke to me. She spoke of reality--of being poor, of standing on your own two feet, of moving forward through adversity, of survival and sometimes of triump--but mostly survival.

Perhaps it was because she was born Marguerite. My given name, Marguerita, was also based on on a Marguerite--my father's sister who died when he was young. Like a number of women, she changed her name later in life to reflect who she was and who she wanted to be. IN many ways authors do that when they take a pen name. Performers do that when they take on a professional name. Maya Angelou did the same.

Though she was black, and a civil rights activist, Maya Angelou often crossed the black-white boundaries in her life. I believe her poetry and her autobiographies often strive to show that we are more alike than different. I am fortunate that I grew up in an integrated neighborhood. I didn't realize there was prejudice in the world until we moved from that neighborhood into one where my high school had only one black family. It is amazing to me that someone who has survived the experiences of being poor and black, assaults, single motherhood, and prejudice could still have optimism and hope. Yet, when I read much of her poetry I think she did and made it her mission to let people know things could be different if they would try.

I distinctly remember her reading her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the swearing-in of President Bill Clinton. Though she was black and he was white, they had both grown up poor in Arkansas. There was an affinity--an understanding--in how that shapes a person.

Please read the entire poem. It is still today a call for leadership, a call for understanding, a call for knowing where each of us fits in the wider web of life. 

My favorite stanza, however is this:

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

"But seek no haven in my shadow." What a line. An offer to lift one up but recognize the next step--the flight--to choose what to do and how to do it is theirs to take.

As each of us steps forward and faces our destiny, tries to make the world a better place, rejects prejudice and champions diversity we give thanks to Maya Angelou and others like her.

Godspeed. I will miss you.


Anonymous said...

Well stated. Though not known for her humor, when I went see her speak at a huge university auditorium many years ago. I was thrilled to feel such a connection to her via her low key ability to amuse the audience. A sign of a truly great, and confident, public speaker.

Maggie Lynch said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I never had the opportunity to see her in person. What I loved about her writing and her speaking (which I only say on TV) is that she always seemed comfortable in her own skin--no matter the age or the event she seemed to be fine with telling it like it is and not hiding from truth. That is a rare gift in itself. Add that to the gift of words and being able to get emotion and meaning across in a poem is miraculous to me.